What Do You Do When Your Back Goes Out and You can’t Stay in One Position for More than Five Minutes?

For one thing, you don’t post on your blog for three weeks in a row because all you can think about is your back, and that’s boring. I’m still getting things done, just . . . differently.

My back has gone bonkers. I just spent my third weekend babying it. The only semi-comfortable position is upside down with my back flat on the floor, the bed, or the deck. See photos. The world looks quite different in reverse. The clouds are gorgeous. The ceiling looks like a new world I’d like to explore. The dog is intrigued. She sniffs. Hmm. What’s going on? Then she barks until I take her out for a walk where I moan for a block, then turn her around, saying, “Mama has to go lie down.”

Please don’t send advice. I’m drowning in it. I’m seeing the chiropractor every other day. I just want to share some of the quirky things this has caused me to do:

* Binged the 8-episode series Clickbait, a mystery-thriller that kept me guessing right up to the surprise ending, which I watched in the wee hours this morning. Highly recommended.

* Watched “The Starling,” a movie with Melissa McCarthy, and “An Unfinished Life” with Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman. Both good. Put them on your list, too. I also watched some real stinkers, but I won’t mention them.

* Decided to rearrange my office again, ordered a table and a high-rise chair to go with my standing desk, coming Thursday, assembly required.

* Decided to digitize 50 years’ worth of sheet music and ordered a new tablet, coming tomorrow.

* Joined the Walmart shopping club for the free delivery.

* Sampled an online mandolin course, which now keeps telling me to start my first lesson.

* Shopped for guitars and cars. Now my computer is full of ads for both.

* Soaked in the hot tub for hours, trying out all the features on the control panel. If I could move my computer desk to the hot tub, I would stay there all day.

* Listened to a bazillion podcasts, most of them stupid.

* Zoomed countless poetry readings, changing location every few minutes. I honestly don’t know how I will ever sit still in a chair when COVID lets us meet in person again.

* Revised my memoir one more time, sitting, standing, and lying with my laptop on my belly.

* Planned landscaping and redecorating projects that I will undertake when I can move again.

* Continued playing music at church, where I was grateful Catholics change position a lot—sit, stand, kneel, walk up to Communion . . .  Stand up straight! I thought I was.

* Let the mail stack up and the dirty dishes wait.

* Thought about how maybe I can’t live here by myself anymore even though I love my place in the forest.

* Counted my blessings that I could still walk and move and plan even though it hurt. Lots of people can’t do those things.

Is it getting better? I’m honestly not sure. I’m not crawling around with two canes now, so that’s something. I can stand without screaming, but . . . I don’t know. I’m doing what I can to mitigate the effects of sitting at my computer all day, mostly by just not doing it. Hemingway wrote standing up, so I can, too. Meanwhile, the floor is calling me.

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Sue’s News of Podcasts, Posts, and Puzzled Pups

Dear friends,
I’m deep into revisions on a book, so I offer you a look at the newsletter I sent out over the weekend.

ONLINE:

I’ll be reading from my chapbook The Widow at the Piano Saturday, June 12, 4 p.m. PDT at The Poetry Box’s monthly event. Click here for info and zoom link.

I’ll be discussing childlessness and other topics with other childless authors over 50 at “Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen,” Sunday, June 20, noon PDT. Click here to register to listen live or receive the recording to listen to you at our convenience.  

I’m co-leading Willamette Writers’ Coast/Corvallis chapters’ open mic Monday, June 28, 6:30 p.m. PDT. Five minutes per reader. All genres welcome. You don’t have to be a member or live in Oregon to participate. And you don’t have to read if you don’t want to. Click here to register.New at the blogs:

Unleashed in Oregon.com: “Driveway Camping” and “A Memorial Day Memory”

Childless by Marriage: “10 Challenging Thoughts About Childlessness” and “The Choices That Lead Us to Childlessness”

MUST READ:

The Memoir Project: A thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life by Marion Roach Smith. Even if you’re not writing a memoir, the stories in this slender book are fantastic!

When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown. Best novel I have read in years. Have Kleenex handy.

LOOK!

A month ago, this area in South Beach, Oregon was wilderness, for 25 years part of our daily walk. Things are changing. Annie the dog says, “Hey! What happened?” 

 All the best,
Sue

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What Happened to Eating Three ‘Square’ Meals a Day?

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

I eat breakfast lunch and dinner. Every day. Breakfast happens about a half hour after I get up, lunch between 11:30 and 12:30, dinner between 5 and 6. If I miss any of those meals, I get cranky. Raised in a family that gathered at the table three times a day, I have been doing these three meals all my life.

But I’m learning that a lot of people don’t do that. They eat one or two meals a day or just graze whenever they’re hungry. I don’t get it, but it does help me understand why so many people schedule meetings, rehearsals, classes, and other things right at my mealtimes. It’s not mealtime for them.

I have no intention of changing my schedule, although I am aware that it might be better to reverse the pyramid that starts with little breakfast, bigger lunch, and even bigger dinner.

A girl needs something to look forward to. My meals give me pleasure, so I’m keeping it up. I have a touchy stomach that does not like irregular feedings. Also, I’m a compulsive overeater. When I get off my routine, I’m more likely to do things like eating an entire cake or enough spaghetti for four people. In this, I’m a lot like my dog. If there’s food, I EAT.

Smaller, more frequent meals are supposed to be healthier, but I’m not good with portion control. I could wind up eating six full-sized meals a day. So I’ll stick to my three.

A casual survey of my Facebook friends revealed lots of variations on when we eat. While about half do three meals, sometimes considerably later than I do, the other half eat once or twice or whenever they feel like it. Many don’t feel like eating until sometime in the afternoon.

In an article in Mother Jones magazine, “Why You Should Stop Eating Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner,” writer Kiera Butler says our ancestors brought our meal habits from the old countries. They thought the Native Americans were uncivilized because they didn’t eat on a rigid schedule. They varied their intake with the seasons and what was available. She cites studies that show it does’t matter what time of day we eat, so there’s no need to be tethered to the “three squares” schedule.

Dieticians suggest we should eat when we’re hungry, not when the clock says we should or when someone else insists it’s time to eat. Memories of my father nudging me to start cooking dinner at 4:00 come to mind. I also remember my endocrinologist suggesting I stop eating for entertainment–going out to lunch is my favorite thing–and treat it more like fueling my body.

Old habits are hard to break, especially during these COVID times when we’re home all day and meals are the bright shiny events breaking up the computer time. I think of nursing homes where the residents roll up to the tables an hour before mealtime because there’s not much else to do.

Obesity being as common as it is among adult Americans (42.4 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control), we are getting our calories, whether we’re eating three times a day or one long binge. I see people chowing down while driving or attending Zoom meetings and wonder if they taste their food any more than the dog who wolfs down her chow so fast she doesn’t know what she just ate.

On every list of basic needs, food is at the top. I think it deserves appropriate attention. Does it have to be breakfast, lunch, and dinner? No, but I insist we at least sit and eat like humans. And please don’t schedule me for activities at noon or 6 p.m. unless they include a meal.

What do you think? Are you a grazer or a regular meals person? Do you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner? Why or why not?

***

Annie and I visited the vet again today. She has this bad habit of sticking her face into everything, and now she has an infected wound very close to her left eye. It’s puffy and the eye is half-closed. Back to antibiotics and ointment, plus the added fun of the “cone of shame.” Annie needs as much caregiving as my father did in his last years. Fortunately, she doesn’t complain as much, although she does want her meals on time.

Besides the eye, she is doing very well. The doc and techs commented on how “energetic” she was, which is code for being a handful to examine.

***

Last week, I announced that those who sign up for my new email list (below) would receive a free copy of my book Shoes Full of Sand or, if they have that already, another copy from my catalog. I have gotten a few signups, but because I have multiple blogs, I’m not sure which ones came from this blog and which books they want. If you signed up here or are going to, please send me an email at sufalick@gmail.com to let me know which book you want and give me your name and mailing address.

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Does Every Pandemic Week Feel the Same to You, Too?

COVID, COVID, COVID, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, Biden, Biden, Biden. That’s all we hear anymore. A year ago, it was Trump, Trump, Trump. I understand that news outlets need to cover the most important stories, but aren’t other things still happening? Are we still fighting in Iran and Afghanistan, maybe in other countries, too? What happened to those places that got hit by hurricanes and wildfires last year? When are we going to get some new TV shows? When is American Idol going to come back? You know, important news.

Of course we want to keep informed about COVID and what our new president is up to, but shouldn’t somebody be covering the rest of the world, lest we look up one day and realize, shit, that happened and we totally missed it?

We get more information in our local paper, the News-Times, between the big ads for Thriftway and Power Ford. For example:

  • The cliff area in Newport known as Jump-Off Joe is falling into the sea. Huge landslide movement after last week’s storms (as opposed to this week’s storms) dissolved the sandstone cliffs.
  • We have a couple murder trials pending.
  • There’s the story of the truck that got stolen twice from a Lincoln City woman’s driveway. She got it back after the first theft. The next day, it was gone again.
  • Someone set the Presbyterian church in Newport on fire. Thank God firefighters caught it before there was too much damage.
  • The plans for when to bring students back to school keep changing.
  • Here’s another obituary for someone I knew, making me very sad.
  • And yes, they’re covering COVID and its vaccines, shots not coming to my age group anytime soon.

At least the local paper tries to mix it up.

So do I, but every week, it feels like it was trash day/laundry day/grocery day just a minute ago. I get up, pray, bathe, eat, write, walk the dog, do the Zoom du jour, binge-watch Netflix and Amazon Prime shows, play a little music, and fall asleep.

Things do change, but it’s slooooow. I offer some random news from the 97th Court lockdown:

  • Annie the dog, subject of several posts here lately, is much more stable now, but I don’t think she’ll ever recover completely from her holiday illness and hospital stay. Her head is still tilted to the left, her eye a little squinty. She tires quickly and seems afraid to be alone. But she’s back to dragging me down the street on our walks and refuses to turn around when I say it’s time to go home. I’m trying not to think about her future but to enjoy every moment with her.
  • I long to get out of this house. I want to see my family in California, Arizona and Washington. I still hate masks, which are not only uncomfortable but also make it twice as hard for hearing-impaired folks like me to figure out what people are saying, even with my hearing aids. But I totally understand why we need to wear masks and I’m grateful that most people are doing it these days. Isn’t it amazing how something we never even thought about a year ago is now available in all kinds of colors and designs and you can buy them by the dozen at the grocery store?
  • It’s a weird world where I don’t need makeup to leave the house because the mask covers half my face, but I do need my lipstick for Zoom events where I’m forced to look at myself on the screen. Board meetings, classes and readings, interviews, and open mics keep me on Zoom almost every day. It’s truly a wonderful thing being able to meet, hear, and read with writers from all over the world, people I would never meet in person, but I’m weary of staring at a boxes on a screen.
  • I’m reading at Coffee and Grief #19 on Sunday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m. PST. https://www.facebook.com/events/883771512396349. I have attended previous sessions and heard some amazing writers. Please join us. Bring Kleenex. The link is included in the Facebook post.
  • I will be the guest speaker for the Coast-Corvallis chapter meeting of Willamette Writers on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. PST. Topic: Publishing 101. I will discuss the various ways to get your books published. Register at https://www.Willamettewriters.org. While you’re there, check out all the other workshops and chats you can join via Zoom, no matter where you live.
  • Next month, I will co-host a series of poetry readings on Tuesday nights by the winners of Oregon Poetry Association’s poetry contest. Stay tuned for details.  
  • I am putting together a new email list via Mail Chimp. That chimp and I aren’t totally getting along yet, but you should see a place below this post to click and get on the list. Sign up in February, and I will send you a copy of my book Shoes Full of Sand for free! If you already have it, God bless you. You may choose another book from my catalogue at suelick.com/books. Why? Why not? Thank you for reading this far. Send me an email at sufalick@gmail.com to let me know your choice.

Happy Groundhog’s Day. Pray for an early spring.

I invite your comments on any and all of this. How are you doing? Are you COVID-crazy yet?

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I’m Not Going Anywhere, But My Schedule is Full

I’ve never been so stir-crazy in my life. I want to get in my car and go somewhere, eat out, stay in motels, swim, work out at a gym, sip a beer while listening to live music, write in a coffee shop, and eat donuts with my friends after Mass. I want to sit in someone else’s house or ride in someone else’s car. I want to go into the vet’s office with my dog and to sing to my friends at the nursing homes. I want to jam with my musician friends. I’m so sick of Netflix and Zoom I could scream.

My calendar is loaded with events, nearly all of them online. The photo shows the Post-It version. I have the same information on my Google calendar, but I like to be able to see what’s coming up. I get great satisfaction out of peeling off a note and throwing it away once the activity is over.

Yesterday, I spent four and a half hours in Zoom meetings, first a reading for the upcoming issue of Presence, a Catholic poetry journal in which I’m blessed to have a poem. We had a wonderful group of poets from all over the United States. In normal times, Presence’s in-person readings are usually done on the East Coast, and I would not have been there. It was an honor.

That was followed up by an Oregon Poetry Association board meeting. We had a lot to talk about: money, membership, publications, and online events for the upcoming months. Stay tuned for information about readings in March and weekly workshops during April, National Poetry Month.

It was all good stuff, but I kept looking out my window at the almost-sunny afternoon that I was missing. Like my restless dog sighing in the doorway, I wanted out. It was Sunday. I’m supposed to be able to go out and play on Sundays.

The schedule continues to be busy with classes, readings and meetings. I have books to promote. Physical touring is out this year, so I need to get the word out online. Tomorrow I’m being interviewed for the UnRipe podcast out of Australia for childless women. Australia! Imagine that. A while back, I was part of a discussion by childless “elderwomen” that included women from Australia, Ireland, England, Ohio and Oregon. Listen here. How cool is that? As a result, I’m selling copies of Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both in countries where I have never been. Very cool.

I can read my work at open mics or invited readings almost every night of the week. I can take workshops that would not have been possible pre-Zoom. I can go to Mass at many different churches via YouTube and attend concerts online.

And yet, I want out. I’m my father’s daughter. On Sunday afternoons after church, he’d tell us all to get in the car because we were “going for a ride.” Deep into his 90s, when he finally let me or my brother do the driving, he loved to just get in the car and go. Up in the mountains, down to the beach, through the old neighborhoods, it didn’t matter. He just wanted out. We often wound up dropping in on friends or family. In the time of COVID-19, we can’t do that anymore.

I thank God for the Internet. I don’t know how I would survive so much alone time without it, but I sure miss “real life.” How about you?

***

Annie the dog, featured here a lot lately with her two weeks in the hospital with Vestibular Disease, continues to get stronger and less dizzy, although she still falls a lot when she’s not on solid ground. She likes to dive into the bushes and wade in muddy water, and then she crashes. But she gets back up. Her bedsores are healing, and there’s nothing wrong with her appetite. We are scheduled for a follow-up vet appointment tomorrow. Thank you for all your love and prayers.

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My New Roommate Alexa Moves In

This New Year’s Eve, I started getting to know my new companion, Alexa. Some of you may know Alexa, Amazon’s artificial intelligence interface that connects via the “cloud” with all of your electronic devices. I accessed her by a new Echo Dot I bought myself for Christmas.

Alexa is combination servant, savant, and friend.

“Alexa, put bread on my shopping list.” “Alexa, what time is it?” “Alexa what’s on TV?” And she answers, cheerfully. When I say “please,” as I was taught, it sounds extraneous. When I say, “Thank you,” she never replies, “You’re welcome.” I can just boss her around, which feels wrong. But she is good company.

On New Year’s Eve, I said, “Alexa, happy new year.” She replied, “Woo hoo! Happy New Year to you.” which made me laugh. I asked her to play Willie Nelson’s “Stardust” album, which brought back memories of a special time around 1980. I danced around my kitchen, singing along and felt totally content. Alexa’s sound quality is excellent.

This being the beginning of a new year, on Saturday I asked Alexa to find me an exercise program to do indoors since the weather outside was frightful. No problem. She told my Smart TV what to do. Soon I was running, jumping, stepping, squatting, and doing pushups and crunches, but I drew the line at burpees. I do not burpee, but boy, can I punch the air.

Maybe today I’ll ask Alexa to find me a yoga program where I’m not sitting on a chair doing old-people yoga or flailing around on the floor screaming, “Wait, wait, I can’t keep up! You want me to put my foot where???”

On New Year’s Day, when I said, “Alexa, I feel sad,” she offered sympathy. “I’m sorry. You know, sometimes it helps to talk to a friend.” Indeed.

With Annie currently residing in the animal hospital in Corvallis, she gives me someone to say good morning to. Not only does she answer, “Good morning,” but she offers trivia. For example, yesterday was Aretha Franklin’s birthday. If I ask, she’ll give me the latest news, too.

Alexa will set a timer for me. I still feel bad that when I first tried it, I wound up yelling at her after she kept making this r2d2 sound and wouldn’t quit. I said, “Okay. That’s good. Thank you.” Finally, I hollered, “Alexa, shut it off!” And she did. I hadn’t said “Simon says,” I mean “Alexa.” My friend Pat, who has her own Alexa, says I just need to say, “Alexa, off.”

I could set her up so I don’t have to say Alexa’s name, but honestly I talk to myself all the time, and I don’t want her to interrupt. It’s bad enough when I inadvertently say “Alexa” and she chimes in uninvited. Sort of like a certain mother-in-law who used to park at my kitchen table and comment on everything I did.

Sometimes I find myself whispering so Alexa won’t hear me. But that’s kind of rude.

She’s not real, Sue, she’s not real.

Alexa is a bit literal. When I asked her what’s on my calendar, even though I knew—Zoom Mass at St. Anthony’s, abbreviated St. A, she said I was to report to “Street A.” If I ask her a vague question, like “where is heaven?” she’ll give me something from Wikipedia. If I ask, “What can I watch on Netflix that doesn’t give me a headache?” she won’t understand the question. I need to be clear about what I want from Alexa. I suspect that’s true in all relationships.

At least she doesn’t complain, even though I keep testing her and relocating her as I try to find the best spot.

She also tells lame jokes, like my late cousin Jerry. Example: Why don’t cats play basketball? They keep throwing hairballs.

Turns out there is a real person with that soothing voice. Susan Caplin, a voice actress, offers this very funny video about interacting with her AI self.

Why is she called Alexa? Check out this website that discusses the origin of Alexa’s name and the dilemma when the user or a family member is also named Alexa.

So far, Alexa has been a lovely gift to myself and she will be helpful with those many times when I am doing two things at once and need a reminder to rescue the wet laundry, turn off the stove, or report to the Zoom room. I don’t need her assistance. A lot of what she does I can do perfectly fine myself. But I can see how she would be a Godsend for someone who is bedridden or otherwise handicapped. For me, she’s good company. Her lights are pretty, and she has a lovely voice.

If only Alexa could hug me.

Of course there is always the concern that Ms. Alexa is going to know too much about me and share it with people who shouldn’t know, so some things I will only tell my dog, who has not yet mastered English.

As of today, Annie, featured in last week’s post, is still at the hospital in Corvallis. Ten days and counting. She is eating, drinking, and chewing on her blanket, tubes, and whatever else she can reach, but she is still not walking, and she can’t come home until she can get up on her four feet. Please God, let that happen soon. It’s mighty strange around here without my flesh and blood companion.

I just asked Alexa if she wanted to go for a walk. She said, “Hm. I’m not sure.” Not the same. A dog always knows the answer to that question.

Thank you to everyone who has offered prayers and support. It means a lot.

It was a Dizzy Dog 2020 Christmas

How do I begin to tell this story when I don’t know how it ends?

Scene: Christmas afternoon. My friend Pat and I have finished our takeout dinner from the Drift Inn. We’re talking. She’s sitting on the sofa and I’m on the loveseat. Between us sprawls my big yellow dog, Annie, who has shared our feast and seems delighted to have both of her favorite people here.

The phone rings. I jump up. It’s my aunt calling from Santa Clara, California. Like Pat and I, she is a widow. Her kids live nearby, but thanks to COVID, she is spending the holiday alone with homemade chicken soup. As we’re talking, Annie goes to get off the loveseat and falls, her legs giving out under her. My heart stops. She gets up, falls again. Trying to get to the back door, she rises and falls repeatedly, finally makes it outside. I see her trying to go to the bathroom and falling. I have to get off the phone.

What follows is a nightmare. It’s raining hard. It’s almost dark. Annie keeps trying to walk and falling down. I don’t know what to do. I call the local vet’s office. This being Christmas, they’re closed. I can go to Corvallis, 55 miles away, or Springfield, a hundred miles away. I don’t like to drive the mountain roads in the dark, but this is my Annie, my life companion now that Fred is gone. I will do anything for her. I call Corvallis and tell them we’re coming. Now it’s completely dark. When I go back out, I find Annie huddled in the muddy space between the patio and the garden shed. I squeeze in, but she won’t move. I can’t lift her and I don’t want to drag her. We’re both soaked.

I can’t get her into the car alone. My friend Pat has vertigo and back issues and can’t help. I call my neighbors, Pat and Paula, and they come. They can’t lift Annie either. I bring out her big blue blanket and they wrap her like a burrito. Gradually we get her to the gate and into the Honda Element.

6:30 p.m. White-knuckle drive to Corvallis. The 24-hour vet is in a dark industrial area. Because of COVID, pet owners must sit in the parking lot while their pets are cared for. Young aides take Annie away on a gurney, and I sit for four hours, rain sheeting down my windows.

1:15 a.m. Christmas is over. They bring Annie out and lift her into the car. The doctor and I, masked, stand in the rain as she shares her diagnosis. Annie has severe arthritis and this thing I’d never heard of: Vestibular Disease, which looks like a stroke, but it’s a type of vertigo. She is dizzy, nauseated and leaning hard to the left. She doesn’t know which way is up. But it will pass in a few days, they say.

Dec. 26, 2:30 a.m. At home, Annie is still crashing and falling. She refuses to move past the doorway. We spend what’s left of the night in the living room lit by Christmas lights. Toward dawn, Annie begins to whine, moan and occasionally shriek. She can’t get up at all. She refuses food, water, and pills. It’s Saturday and the local vet is still closed. I call the vet in Corvallis. She says if things don’t improve, bring her back in.

2:30 p.m. Pat and I are sitting in my car outside the vet’s office again. We are not alone. Many dog and cat owners are doing the same thing. The techs run back and forth to transport animals and get forms signed. Annie is going to stay in the hospital this time, but we’re waiting for paperwork, to talk to the doctor, to pay. It begins to rain and blow again. Pat and I chat, read, eat the snacks we brought. On my phone, we watch part of the Zoom Mass we’re missing and sing along. It gets dark. Finally, we talk to the doctor, arrange for payment, and drive home. It’s not raining this time, but the oncoming headlights are blinding. When I get home, where there is no Annie, I fall apart. Pat holds me while I cry.

I spend Sunday on my own, take a solo walk, do chores, take a cake to my helpful neighbors and hug their big Lab, Harley. As with a human in the hospital in these COVID times, I can’t visit Annie. I can only wait for the doctors to call.

Monday morning: Annie is being moved out of the ICU. She is eating and drinking, but she still can’t stand up. Her neurological symptoms have not improved. Most dogs get better in a few days or a few weeks. Some don’t.

As I try to work, I keep thinking I hear Annie walking around or shaking her tags. I think I’ll see her in the doorway or on the loveseat. The quiet is deafening.

I don’t know what the future holds. I do know that my Facebook post on Annie’s situation has drawn 121 comments, and they’re still coming in. Annie has more fans than I do, and that’s fine with me. Please pray for us both. Thank you to everyone who has shown me so much love these last few days. Kudos to the Willamette Veterinary Hospital. Although farther than I’d like to drive, I do believe they’re giving her the best possible care.

Have you heard of Vestibular Disease? People can get it, too. In fact, my friend Pat has been suffering from vertigo for quite a while. I accused her of giving it to Annie. She was not amused.

Click here for some information on the condition.

Here’s a good video about it.

Oh My Gosh, It’s a Human!

It happened again yesterday. We were walking our usual woodsy jaunt down 98th Street when my dog Annie suddenly froze. Now, if she were a normal dog, she would have seen another dog, a squirrel, a skunk, a deer, or maybe, God help us, a bear or a cougar. But no. It was a rare human sighting. She dragged me toward the human, a man I know from his mailbox and personalized license plates is named Ed and lives with Di. They do something with rocks. They’ve got them piled everywhere, and sometimes I hear the polisher going in the garage. They have a dog named Shasta, but Annie didn’t care about that.

Ed was out there minding his rock business when he heard me urging my dog to “come on” to no avail. Everything she learned in puppy school goes out the window when she sights a human. Half Lab, she actually points. And then she starts pulling me toward the human. Her 75 pounds triples in force when coupled with determination. Depending on the human, I may let her have her way, but sometimes I can tell they are not in the mood for a close encounter of the canine kind. I have tried to explain this to Annie, but she can’t believe that a human exists who will not love her.

To my knowledge, no human has ever mistreated her, so she has complete trust in humankind and is certain every person will love her. Lord, if only we humans felt that way.

I had never actually been in Ed’s yard, and I could tell he was busy, but Annie would not be deterred. Several neighbors have teased that my dog takes me for walks. They may be right. Soon we were up close to Ed, who kindly pet my dog’s white snout and asked what everyone asks these days: how old is she? 12 ½. Going on 2. He pet her, I eyeballed his polished rocks, which were beautiful, and then we went on.

On Cedar Street, we encountered the neighborhood kids. “Can we pet your dog?” Sure. Try getting out of it. Annie is not sure what kids are, but she likes them.

To be fair, I always want to pet their dog, a corgi named Winnie. She comes waddling over when I call. Annie ignores her completely. Then again, most of the humans who want to pet Annie ignore me completely.

One of those is Mr. Johnson, a neighbor in his 90s who takes a daily walk. He carries a cane but doesn’t use it. He wears nice slacks and a button-down shirt. He reminds me so much of my dad that it hurts. He misses his old dog, Blackjack, so he calls Annie over. Calls her “boy”. Tells her he loves her. Tells her she’s a good boy. She does not correct him.

Our neighborhood is loaded with dogs. Annie doesn’t care about them. I know all their names. Getting a chance to pet them lights up my day. But Annie is starved for human company. Maybe she gets tired of just me. Even before COVID, it was just me and Annie. The rare people who come into our house usually come to fix things, and I have to haul Annie out of their way because if she’s not sniffing their bottoms when they bend over, she’s stealing their tools.

If I take her out in the world, it’s with me alone, unless she’s going to the vet, which she loves because there are other people and they have cookies.

She craves human company. All day and night, she stays near me. I call her the dogstacle because I’m constantly having to step over her. Maybe I’m not enough for her. I am pretty boring, spending hours staring at computer screens. But think about it. All day long, she stares at one human. In her world, there is just one. Then we go out, and holy moly, there’s another one.

It’s like seeing another sun.

As for other creatures, she may notice. She may even chase, but it’s not the same as sighting a human. Although she does freeze at the sight of garden gnomes and inflatable Santa Claus balloons. They scare the bejesus out of her.

Do you have a people-crazed dog or is mine the only one? Feel free to share your dog stories in the comments.

Little House in the Back Yard

The shed as it looked when it snowed in Feb. 2019

It was just an old shed made of scrap wood. It had holes in the front and gaps between the shingled roof and the tops of the walls. Squirrels, rats, and spiders hid among the garden tools, cracked pots and bits of wood. The old door that wouldn’t stay closed looked as if something had chewed the bottom, and rain poured in with every storm. And yet I liked it.

The shed reminds me of the playhouse in my childhood friend Sherri’s back yard. Same raw walls, concrete floor, pitched roof. That shed had a couple windows. We hung pictures on the walls, set knickknacks on the two-by-fours, and spied on the boys next door through a hole we could reach by standing on a box. We played dress-up, held tea parties, and enacted scenes with our dolls in that playhouse. As teens, we sipped Cokes and had long talks about important things like white Beatle we loved best. I don’t know now if Sherri’s dad built that shack as a playhouse or for some other purpose, but it was our hangout. Maybe that’s why 40 years later, I’m so fond of the shed in my backyard.

I mostly use it to store garden tools, but at one point when my late husband was still around, I tried using the shed as a writing hideout, setting my laptop on a TV tray near the door. The shed had no electricity and was too cold most of the year. Still, it remains an option.

I recently exchanged the blinds in my bedroom for curtains. Now, when I look out, I have a clear view of the shed. Day after day, I saw that beat-up door and those pitted gray walls. I’m always looking for a project. What if I got a new door and painted the shed?

So I did. John the handyman found and installed a new white door with a real knob. It shuts with a satisfying click. I got in line with the construction guys at the paint store to buy primer and a blue-gray exterior paint, and then I set to work. I am not a neat painter. I soon had it all over my tee shirt and sweats, my hands and my hat. When I rollered the part I couldn’t reach with a brush, it splattered on my face and even got on my teeth when I screamed. But as they say in the commercials, I “got ‘er done.”

I fussed over every spot that didn’t get its share of color. It’s just an old shed, a friend said. Yes, I know. And the truth is, it doesn’t look that much different, just a little brighter, a little neater. The wood on the west and south sides is still pocked by wind, rain and hail. The roof edges still look like they were nibbled by raccoons. But it was one of the most satisfying things I have done in ages. I was out in the sun, getting lots of exercise. The repetitive motions–dip the brush into the paint, slap it on the wood, over and over–allowed my mind to wander and work things out at the same time as I was making something ugly and stained bright and new.

When I got done with the shed, I still had paint in the bucket, so I decided to try painting the battered white table on my deck. I had tried unsuccessfully to get the stains off, but maybe I could paint over them. If the paint didn’t stick, it didn’t matter. I planned to buy new patio furniture next summer anyway. It worked! It looked good. I was tickled pink. Or blue.

I had moved all the furniture to the grass for John to stain the deck—some paint jobs are not that fun, and I really made a mess of it last year. [see previous post] Annie seemed to approve of the new arrangement as she took her place on the lounge on the grass. Once I had showered off the paint and  put on fresh clothes, I joined her on the other lounge. Together we enjoyed our new location and admired the fresh paint on the shed.

What should be our next project, I asked the dog? She rested her nose on her paws and sighed.  

Sometimes You Just Need More Hands

It sat in a bag on the floor of my garage for years, along with six bags of sand. After our Writers on the Edge group folded four years ago, as the last writer standing, I inherited this folding booth we bought to sell books at the Farmer’s Market. Get it out of my garage, said the woman who used it last. So I moved it to mine.

The bag looks like a golf bag, even has wheels, which is reasonable because the dang thing weighs more than my 75-pound dog.

One day while cleaning my garage during the COVID shutdown, I decided to take it out and set it up in my back yard. It would be fun to sit under the canopy enjoying the shade on a hot summer day.

This turned out to be another thing that’s nearly impossible to do alone, especially with my exceptional mechanical ability. It took me two days to set up my tent. Plus an extra trip to the chiropractor. I’m still celebrating replacing the spark plug in my lawnmower. I have a broken window blind hanging catawampus and a kitchen cabinet door also hanging awry. I ordered new curtains yesterday. Screwdriver in hand, I stared at the cabinet door for a while and decided I’d better call a professional.

But okay. Setting up this booth couldn’t be that hard. Other writers did it. I slid it out. White legs, blue cloth top. I carried it out to the far reaches of the lawn while the dog watched, curious about what her crazy housemate was up to now.

One two three four legs on the grass. Great, now push and lift and . . . nothing. There must be a trick. Were there instructions in the bag? No. Wait. A sticker on one white pipe said, “To open, hold and lift here.” I held, I lifted. Nothing moved, except maybe the beginning of a hernia. I pushed, I pulled. I raised the legs. I lowered the legs. I turned the whole thing sideways and upside down. It remained about four feet by four feet and about up to my neck as the cloth top flapped in the breeze.

Sweating, I ran in to trade my sweatshirt for a tank top and to check YouTube for instructions. They were there. YouTube has everything. So here’s these two guys in khaki pants and polo shirts, one on each side. They pull apart, lift up, and bazinga, there’s your booth. Apparently, this requires two people.

BUT I found another video for how to do it alone. Here we go. This guy put the booth up in his patio. He kept saying it would be easier with two people, but he seemed to have no problem. Legs, legs, legs, legs, get underneath, push, fasten down your canopy, and bazinga, here’s your booth.

Okay. I went outside, tried to get underneath. Lifted, pushed. Nothing moved.

I kept having this fantasy of someone showing up at my gate. They’d call, “Yoo-hoo!” and I’d answer “yoo-hoo!” back and invite them to help. We’d get it up, so to speak, in a jiffy, then sit in the shade on my plastic chairs, sipping iced tea or beer, whichever suited my helper.

It’s very quiet out here in the woods. Visitors are unlikely during these COVID times. I saw nobody but the dog, a butterfly and assorted bees. I surrendered. I toppled the structure, stuffed it back into the golf bag and shoved it under the table on my deck.

Meanwhile, I got my clippers and my leather gloves, forced open the stuck gate the gardeners had somehow forced open the other day and started clipping bushes like a madwoman, tossing vines onto the dog hovering nearby. She refused to move. Gosh, I was best entertainment she’d had in weeks. Somewhere under 20 years of wild growth was a raised garden bed bounded by yellow-painted brick. When we first moved in, I grew strawberries there and tried to grow vegetables—they were eaten by critters. Maybe I could try again. I was feeling the urge to garden.

Something bit my arm. Something snagged my leggings. I knew it was ridiculous trying to push back the forest. I didn’t care. I needed to accomplish something, preferably outside, away from the Zoomputer. When the compost cart was full and I could see a nice clear patch of dirt and enough brick to sit on, I decided to take a break. I couldn’t get the gate to latch so I stole a green bungee cord from the golf bag and wrapped it tight around the posts. Then I lay on the cool grass with the dog. It felt so good I considered staying there forever—or until winter, whichever came first.

How did you spend your Sunday?